News.com has covered, at least three different times, the topic of the transfer of the RSS 2.0 spec from UserLand to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, and its subsequent re-release to the public via a Creative Commons license. The third of those pieces is now running, with a heavy focus on a personality clash. I can’t help but see this focus as fundamentally misguided — and as something other than “news.” The high road, and the productive road, here is to put personalities aside and pay attention to the very real substantive issues on the table in this discussion. The substance that seems to matter most is some combination of the following: openness on the Net; interoperability; true consumer and technologist choice; and effectiveness and stability of the technology. (Are we saying anything inconsistent with, say, the W3C’s seven principles? Are those principles the right ones?) I’m sure there are more factors, but each of them, at least, strikes me as more important than a flame war.
Note that the efforts, baby-steps if you will, being made to remove the personality issues from the discussion aren’t simply erasing their effects overnight.
One current example is the conflict between the implied permissiveness of the Attribution-ShareAlike license (anyone can produce a new RSS spec) and the statement of the board members that only they can update the original, official version hosted at Berkman. That conflict, as an example among others, still hangs over the issue of what “open” means in that context.
Historically, the personal issues have been deeply ingrained in the discussion — so much so that those issues have been carried over into the specifications themselves, their evolution to date, and their advocacy. This situation was forced to happen in RSS (after Netscape 0.91, before UserLand 0.91, and including 1.0 and 2.0) and is being and will be forced to happen in Pie/Atom/Echo. Will it disappear with a new set of specs? Sadly, no. Will it disappear with unwavering solidarity with existing specs? Obviously not.
Do I have a solution? Nope. Not that either. I’d say honest communication.
Update: that last statement had added “but all it takes is a mere implication of conspiracy to make a personal attack out of that, no?” Which was misunderstood as my saying there was a conspiracy. I am aware of no conspiracies, anywhere. My point was that honest attempts at communication are intentionally or inadvertently sabatoged by personal comments, of which “labeling a conspiracy” is one example of. This discussion thread itself was therefore inadvertently sabatoged by what appeared to be a personal comment, but was not intended to be so.
While there’s superficial “personality issues”, I’d say there’s also much deeper differences in vision, and that’s the heart of the dispute.
I guess the question that galls me is–and please don’t take this personally–“Why release RSS to Berkman?”
The fact that Dave Winer, one of the creators of RSS and former top dog at Userland is a fellow at Berkman, seem to contribute to the notion of conspiracy.
Perhaps I’m missing something, but what qualifies Berkman to be the caretaker of RSS over other standards bodies? I’m not saying that Berkman is unqualified, but it seems that it hasn’t had a great deal of experience with technical specifications like RSS (other than the presence of Dave Winer). Rather, Berkman seems to have found its niche in researching the legal implications of new media and technology.
Interested in your thoughts . . .
“Conspiracy” is a bad word. Rather, let us say, a skeptical person could view this as a way that Dave Winer was in effect retaining control of the spec
himself, by having it held by an organization where
he is viewed as Blog Techno-God.
To be fair, one could argue for Dave Winer’s position,
that he’s voluntarily removing any financial aspects of him profiting from the spec. It’s very complicated.
Or one could simply ask the person to explain why, or read what was written when the transfer took place, and see if it’s possible to take it at face value. Assuming you had asked, here’s what I would have said.
1. Berkman is not a standards body. It is neutral.
2. If anyone could edit the spec, how could anyone implement it?
3. I went to Berkman because of 1.
4. RSS is what it is. No one can change it. I can’t, you can’t. Ken MacLeod has been trying to change it for years. It isn’t my fault he can’t. I wish he would figure that out and stop making his misery mine. It’s not.
To keep this as simple as possible, let me say that I’m at least glad that Jon and Brent are able to change it.
As Dave and I have a visible disconnect over what “change” means and what it means for Berkman to host Really Simple Syndication, it would be nice if maybe John, Jon, or Brent could add their insight.
I have tried to more clearly present my understanding of “change” and the hosting of Really Simple Syndication at Berkman on my weblog, Change History for Really Simple Syndication.
The Berkman Center is not qualified as a standards body, nor are we in any way suggesting that we are. I don’t take personally a critique of our qualifications in this regard, because I readily say we have none. I have written as much on this weblog at the time of the transfer of the spec to us, and re-release via (cc) license. The advisory board of 3 is independent of the Berkman Center. Our role is merely to take the intellectual property angle out of the RSS equation. Tim Bray, for instance, in e-mail correspondence, noted that he approved of this move for precisely this reason, and I was grateful to hear it. We have also, I suppose, created a public space on our servers for discussion of the topic. There’s just nothing more complex than that at work here, from where I sit. I’m frankly astonished that there’s a way to read a “conspiracy” into giving something away (with the modest strings attached of saying where you got it and ensuring that others get to share in it after you). I guess I’m naive. I’m impressed to have seen those who have gone back to work.
Yes or No question: Can the advisory board change the RSS spec hosted at Berkman?
Ken as a member of the advisory board I’m going to follow the Roadmap of the RSS 2.0 spec to the letter, and if the others want to break the Roadmap I’m going to argue against it. In other words, imho the answer to your question is in the spec.
Seth, what is the difference of vision, as you see it?
Ok, continuing. Trying to keep this as simple as possible and personality free. This is just a clarifying counter-question:
Yes or No: Only the advisory board can rightfully change the RSS spec hosted at Berkman?
Dave: As best I can articulate, since I’ve been trying to understand what the RSS wars are about, it’s
an Emacs vs. Vi style vision difference. That is, do you have something small and compact and bullet-proof for
what it does, or something that places a premium on extensibility, even at a cost of complexity.
That is what I see as driving the dispute. The “personality” issues are overall reflecting
strong beliefs in the competing visions.
Continuing to try to address the issues as directly as possible, I’ve created an “RSS political counterpoint” at Ken MacLeod’s RSS Political FAQ.
Dear Ken MacLeod:
Back from travels, and noting your queries and your e-mail to me on a similar topic: the essential point of what’s happened is that *anyone* can change the RSS spec, so long as they do so consistent with the (cc) license to which it’s subject. Neither the Berkman Center nor anyone else would be in a position to stop that person. Whether others follow the fork or not is up to them. Whether people follow the advice of the Advisory Board or not is up to them. The spec is free, subject to very modest restrictions (attribution, share-alike), and so is the Advisory Board’s advice.
Your blog is very interesint
Thank you for the info!